From the unpublished summer archive:
So we are on a road trip, on the way home. The way home is the longest and most painful. You know any minute, you may jump from the moving vehicle, to distract your brain from the level of activity inside the car, that makes your nerves tingle and jump with electricity. But you don’t. You just imagine it, because who wants to get all scraped up and hurt when there’s still a lot of road time yet. And just imagine your little troop inside the Emergency Room. That’s just stupid crazy.
So we pass a large arch in the middle of the desert. My oldest, Mack, asks if we can stop and climb it. We are all game. Climbing a gorgeous arch in the middle of the desert is awesome. Let’s do it. So Mack and Zoom head up the incline towards the top of the arch. I hear myself yelling already, “Please stop BEFORE you get to the arch! Do you hear me, boys! Hello! Answer me!”
Yep, this is gonna be awesome. I can tell I am already super relaxed and ready to soak in every beautiful moment, while I try to control the hands of fate, lest they be trying to swallow up my boys in these last vacation moments. And luckily the climb is slippery, so it slows them down. I clamber as quickly as I can. When did they get so fast? I used to be able to pass them in an instant! Better get used to that theme from here on out. Damn!
They jump to the top, me on their tails, my husband quietly urging me not to worry. “They’re fine.” In clear man-speak. I hear him. I love him. I don’t believe that he believes that. I think he just doesn’t want to race up there as quickly as the kids are. And he thinks the probability of them getting hurt is lower than I do, maybe.
I smile and fain zen, even though I know he doesn’t buy what I’m selling either. We get to the top and look over the most amazing landscape and per the course, a gorgeous slippery rock slope down the other side. No, they wouldn’t die if they fell, but it would be a long-assed slide to perhaps a broken bone or two, in my estimation. My husband thinks “they’ll be fine.” And like most things that make me nervous, my 8 year old is ready to take on the long slope down or even better, the 20 foot climb up to a cave. And my 5 year old is ready to keep up. So I begin to work on that ulcer quietly, while I ask them to quit climbing the side of the actual archway, calculating how far they can go up before the fall would cause death instead of mild dismemberment.
But like a great dad, my husband jumps in and says, “I’ll hike up there with you guys!” And just like that– my joy of the day has ended, and I go into MOMMY MODE. This entails me forgetting that the view is beautiful or the landscape is inspiring. I go into this mode that allows me only to calculate danger and participate out of sheer necessity. I used to participate because I loved adventure. I used to have fun doing this stuff. I really need to find a way to enjoy danger again… But I don’t think that will happen in my lifetime. Had my boys been born my friends instead, we could have climbed this and any other edifice with laughter and excitement.
We hike up, another tourist takes our picture, a cute little family picture of us in a hole in the side of the archway–me, my husband, and the kids. It looked cute. I raised my hand to look as relaxed as possible. Maybe it would help to pretend.
The kids don’t stop moving the whole time we are up there, and my husband is more worried about me than the kids. But he keeps telling them, “Just SIT still please. No more climbing. Just sit.” I’m not the only one worried. I am just the MOST worried. What the difference? Who cares.
And I finally breathe a sigh of relief as I climb down barefoot, so I have a better grip on the rocks as I guide my kids down the face of the climb. I used to climb rocks with little ropes and plunging cliffs, just for fun, on faces ten times this length. I wasn’t nervous or scared, and I would have blood dripping from my legs because I hadn’t made a move work correctly. It didn’t matter. I kept climbing. And here I am 15 years later, climbing 20 feet and barely breathing. Things change. It’s a bitch.
But the sigh of relief escapes me as I help my last child from the climb. And my 8 year old runs across the rock and puts his first toe in his first shoe. (We had taken our shoes off because the rock was slippery.) The shoe flies like a torpedo through the air, down the backside of the arch’s slope. And I sigh. My son looks up at my husband to see the reaction. Then he looks at me and says, “Sorry. I didn’t mean to.” I truly didn’t give a shit. Throw the shoe. Throw both shoes. They’re $25 bucks. I’m just happy you didn’t throw yourself over the side. I told him the same.
But my husband, was worried… not about the kids falling. He didn’t want us to lose the shoe. Why are we never on the same side of the kids? We are on the same side of politics, religion, business, finances, but never the kid stuff. Are we helping each other by playing the other side of each others’ weaknesses? I had to ask, “Honey, seriously. Who cares about the shoe. Let’s leave it. We’ll stop at the next Wal-Mart and pick up a pair to get home.”
And he pulls up the opposite side. “It’s not the shoe. It’s the principle. We can’t just be careless about our things.” Okay, grandpa. Let’s keep the principle strong and forget the shoe. We can even talk about it all the way home if you want. I’ll write a paper.
OK, whatever. I resign. He lets me pursue my own principles too. And I watch my husband climb down the 200 foot rock face into said abyss to get the $12.50 shoe (that’s half of $25). Course economists might argue the shoe is worth $25 if the other shoe can’t be used without it. Either way, burn it, I say! No one’s going to college or even buying a textbook for $25, so who cares… let’s call it a cheap loss.
My dear husband picked up the shoe from the desert floor, and climbed back up. Sure, he was fine. Sure, I had to sit up there with my boys and say ‘no’ 500 freaking times, while they asked if they could go down there with dad or climb up the higher part of the arch. But in the end, we all ended up in the car, with one shoe for each of our 8 feet. My husband and I were tired from our respective ‘worries’ that day. And I looked at the family picture again. You never think about all the stories behind each family picture you take. And this picture would not speak of how we all felt this day, not to others, maybe not even to each other. We would all look at this picture with a different perspective of what had happened. I wondered what my parents used to think when I wanted to do dangerous things all the time. I remembered my mom pulling me from in front of a car, and another time–off a rock before I fell into a river and figured there were a lot more things she had saved my skin from. I had never thought about it that way.
Family’s a funny thing. It’s crazy and fun and dysfunctional and terribly full of love, unconditional love. I feel a little sentimental today, thinking of my family vacation. I feel lucky to have a family like the one I have. I feel like, hmmm, a little bit of happy.